Day 23 – Trouble on Atlantic Highway

Starting mileage: 16279 km
Day started: 11:00
Day ended: 21:00

Cornwall

Cornwall

Like Dorset before, Cornwall would not just let us go away.

We started the day with a trip to the nearby National Trust attraction, the Bedruthan Steps. Not really aware what to look for, except for a bit of nice coast, we were stumped by the fairly large car park and busy cafe in what looked like the middle of an empty heathland. There was a narrow footpath towards the cliffs and as we followed, we suddenly found ourselves on a whole different continent altogether.

This is what the magic of Cornwall seems to be about: within a few hours drive, you can see pretty much all the landscapes here, experience all the climates. Scilly is Greece or Portugal; Lizard Point is deep North; there are surfing beaches of California, and Bedruthan Steps seem taken wholesale straight out of a bit of Australia.

From the top you could see strong currents all signs warned about. The tide was low; the beach was vast: hundreds of feet of perfect yellow sand. And from this sand, rising straight into the sky, half a dozen enormous rock stacks almost in a row, with tiny ant-like people at their bottom and all this on the backdrop of an immense crumbling cliff edge.

Words and photos do little justice to the enormity of the place; this truly is something you have to see for yourself. As you wander the beach and approach the grand polyp-covered rocks, the reality of where you are strikes you: you are at the bottom of the sea. Not just on a tide beach which goes under a few feet of water. The line of seaweed and sea growth ends at least four-five meters above your head on the rocks further from the low-tide line, and more further in. This is like dry snorkeling: you can see everything at the ocean bottom without going down in a cumbersome wetsuit: the sea anemones, the sponges, and the mussels – oh man, the mussels.

The lowest level of the rocks is covered completely in a layer of something black and dense: great mussel beds. In a few minutes we gathered a bagful of big, fresh mussels for dinner, and a handful of seaweed to add taste.

It was time to go; we passed the children playing in deep pools and surfers returning from the “very dangerous, do not enter” sea, climbed the steep stair back to the top of the cliff, and headed for Padstow.

Padstow holds a special place for us; it’s the place of one of our first trips in the UK, inspired by watching Rick Stein‘s programmes on TV back in Poland, Stein being one of our culinary heroes for a long time. Imagine our surprise when we had met him inside his own deli back then! Obviously, we got an autograph in one of his books – and we are carrying this book with us to this day in the van.

Padstow is a lovely little seaside town, much nicer than, say, Newquay, with its few 14th century houses and narrow, colourful streets, and would have been worth a visit even without the Stein Empire covering most of the harbour (that’s deli, chippie, restaurant and a bakery). There are now loads of pubs and restaurant around the quay, and one street is dedicated solely to pasty shops. Possibly the town’s second most popular attraction is the National Lobster Hatchery (“A project to assist Mother Nature to respond to modern pressures”), where you can watch lobsters grow from tiny larvae to full-grown specimens which are then released into the water (£3.50 pp).

Time pressed us, so we bought a couple of Stein’s famous crab sandwiches to see if they were anything like what we made at home using his recipe (they were), ate a smoked haddock pasty and headed swiftly up the A39 – proudly named “Atlantic Highway” – for what was supposed to be our next destination of the day: Tintagel Castle.

Now is the time to remind of the problems with our van’s engine misfiring and overheating, ever since, oh, Brighton – the very beginning of our journey and a reason for several AA calls and garage visits since then. Well, a few miles before Camelford the engine finally gave out on us, spluttering and choking and stalling. None of the usual methods helped; she was unwilling to carry on and we had to make another call to AA, one that led us to the weirdest night of this trip so far.

It was Sunday evening, and everything in the area was closed for the night. The AA mechanic managed to get the car going for a few miles more, to the nearest garage: the Atlantic Services just before Camelford town limits. We were lucky, the garage was closed down but the owner was still there. Hearing the noise our engine was making, made a decision: we have to stay the night right there, at the parking lot in front of the garage; somebody would see us in the morning. He gave us a lift to the pub Manson Arms serving Cornish pale ale, decorated in all kind of signs, apparently collected from around UK.

The facilities on our “camping” were basic, obviously: a toilet used by the car mechanics in the back yard that resembled car graveyard, and a plug in the wall. But it was free and warm, and after getting some water in town we could even make dinner with our foraged sea food. It was a surreal experience: we were eating pasta with mussels and seaweed, drinking organic cider, camping at closed MOT station, surrounded by broken cars on all sides, waiting for the morning to come to see whether we would ever go forward.

Bedruthan Steps.

Bedruthan Steps

Padstow

Padstow

Camelford

Camelford garage

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2 thoughts on “Day 23 – Trouble on Atlantic Highway

  1. Say “hi” to Tintagel for me and Aili, when you’re there! Oh, and you have Boscastle in your itinerary, too? Greet the witches there as well, perhaps a good luck spell helps your valiant though crippled little car 😉

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